The Culverton Mine Disaster

When Dr. Watson had gone west after the War, he hadn’t expected to have a successful medical practice, but he’d thought he could at least make a living. He had anticipated a life of treating wounded miners and sick settlers, perhaps even fending off the occasional Indian attack. He never imagined that the majority of his patients would be prostitutes. Of course, there were a great many facets of his life now that he’d never imagined back home in New York.


Not that he would ever complain. It was immeasurably better than patching up soldiers on the field of battle, the Confederacy just over the ridge...

“I swear on my mother’s grave, Doc, I ain’t takin’ nothin’ but the medicine you gave me.”

The sarcastic comment brought his mind back to the present. Dr. Watson sighed, secretly grateful. “I may not be as observant as Holmes, but I can tell when you’re lying through your teeth, Kitty. Besides, last month you told me your mother was living in Saint Louis.”

“She could’ve died.”

“She was dead the month previous.”

Kitty grinned, “Guess I’m just used to fellas believin’ anythin’ I tell them when they’re between my legs.”

“If your employer didn’t hire me to examine you, I wouldn’t be down here, trust me.”


“Holdin’ out for an honest woman? You think any will marry a man what lives in a whorehouse?”


Watson rolled his eyes with a slight smile, “I think there’s little chance of a single woman interested in marrying a poor army doctor coming to this town before I’m old and gray. Alright, Kitty, we’re done here. As clean a bill of health as I can give any of you, but I’m serious about the laudanum.” He fixed the young woman with as stern a look he could. It was, he reflected, the same look he gave Holmes whenever he found a new bottle of whatever the latest trial was in their rooms. Fortunately, the look seemed to be more effective on Kitty than it ever was on his friend. “Opium, no matter what form it’s in, is not something to be taken at the merest whim.”


“I get headaches, doc,” Kitty complained.


“You get headaches because you take laudanum. If you stopped, then eventually the headaches would go away.”


Kitty adjusted her faded red corset, and went to the door. “What’s the new snake oil this week?” she asked, rearranging her fiery tresses.


“There hasn’t been one.” Watson refused to be baited, straightening his brown suit, and replying as if they were discussing the weather. “Holmes was horribly disappointed to discover the last was merely camphor and mineral oil. ‘Not even a bit of morphine or cocaine to simulate some sort of effect,’ he complained.”


Kitty laughed a little, “Poor dear. Be honest with me, Doc, why’s he bother with all those things?”


“It keeps him occupied.”


“Takin’ quack cures?”


“No, figuring out what’s in them. Haven’t you ever wondered why snake-oil salesmen never stay in town long?”


Kitty’s eyes grew wide, “You’re kiddin’.”


“Not at all.”


Her eyes narrowed again, her expression subtly distrustful. Rather like a cat, actually. “But he still drinks them, don’t he?” She smiled at Watson’s sigh, “He’s an odd one, no mistake.”


“On that, Kitty, we are in complete agreement.”


Mrs. Hudson was waiting outside the door when Kitty opened it. “Took long enough,” she smiled. “Fancy the good doctor was giving you a lecture about the laudanum again?”


Kitty huffed, “Yes’m.”


“Your girls are all as healthy as can be expected, given the circumstances,” Watson reported.


“You don’t have to live here, doctor,” the graying proprietress arched a practiced brow at him.


It was an old game by now. “If I didn’t, you’d still send for me every month,” he said, smiling just a little.


She smiled back, “Even if you were in New York, I’d still have you make the trip out here. Let no one ever say I don’t take care of my girls.”


You’re also a businesswoman, and your clients less than gentlemen, Watson thought to himself, but let it pass. Mrs. Hudson ruled her Baker Street House with an iron feather. Anyone caught ‘damaging’ a girl was heavily fined, and banned. It was a ban that Holmes was happy to enforce, if ever necessary. As Holmes was fond of telling the men he tossed out, he firmly believed that any man who would beat a woman as a man would beat a disobedient dog was no better than the dog itself. Watson felt the same, which was one of the reasons their rent was practically nonexistent.


He started up the stairs as Mrs. Hudson prepared to open for business. He and Holmes shared quarters on the second floor. When Watson had first arrived it had been Room 22, but after the affair with the men from Utah cemented their friendship, Holmes prevailed upon Mrs. Hudson to permit them to turn his room and the room adjoining into something resembling a very small flat. Mrs. Hudson’s girls called the combination 221.


Watson found Holmes standing by the window, lighting his pipe as he looked down at the street. “How fares the fair sex this afternoon, Doctor?” he asked in his gentle drawl. That voice had given Watson pause the first time he’d heard it, to the good doctor’s embarrassment. Watson still didn’t know much about Holmes’s past, only that he’d been banished from his family’s plantation for supporting the Union and fled west to find a new life for himself. What possessed him to set himself up as an independent detective out here remained a mystery.


Even though the War had been over for three years, there were still those who didn’t care for turning to a ‘Rebel’ for help, even if he had been a Unionist. Holmes derived great satisfaction from watching those sort swallow their considerable pride.


“They’re not going to be giving their customers any unpleasant diseases,” Watson answered Holmes's question, “though I certainly can’t say the reverse. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to steal Kitty’s laudanum bottle, would you?”


Holmes chuckled, his gaze still on the street, “She’d have no trouble obtaining another. It would be as effective as the time you threw out my cocaine.”


Watson coughed. “Yes, well. At least you agreed to moderate your use.”


“Miss Winter will not be nearly so accommodating.”


“I suppose you’re right,” Watson sighed. “What’s so interesting on the street?”


“The Sheriff is coming.” Before Watson could comment that this was hardly an unusual occurrence, Holmes added, “He’s worried.”


That gave Watson pause. He sat down in the chair by the window, “I won’t bother asking how you can tell.”


Holmes'ss gaze focused firmly on his friend, “You winced as you sat down, is your wound bothering you?”


“Been on the leg all day is all.”


Reassured, though possibly unbelieving, Holmes turned his attention back to the street. “Lestrade is mounted, despite the fact that the walk is short from his office to here. He’s donned his most official looking derby and jacket, but didn’t take time to polish his star, as he is so fond of doing. In addition, he’s tugged on his mustache no less than three times in the process of tying his horse to the post.”


“Aha. If the Sheriff is worried, and he’s coming to you...”


“Then the case must be of grave importance,” Holmes finished. There was a knock on the door. “He didn’t even stop to talk to the ladies, there must be something very wrong indeed.” Holmes answered, eager anticipation mixing with his concern, “Sheriff Lestrade, please come in.”


Lestrade’s drooping mustache rendered his face into a permanent scowl, but today a jumble of frustration and worry were clearly visible beneath it. “Thank you, but I’d appreciate you comin’ with me right away, Mr. Holmes. There’s been a... well, you better just come see it.”


“Of course. Watson, can you—?”


“Naturally.” He even stood without wincing, grabbing his slouch hat, “Where are we going?”


Lestrade was already headed down the stairs. “The Culverton mine.”